Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Heading South

Today we went south on the boat since last week we went north. Sounded like a good reason to me.

John Anderson, Emily Aiken, Samantha Bulkilvish, and I went out. John was looking to get more historic houses and this time he prepared a field map that exactly identified which homes along the river were considered historic house by the Maryland Historic Trust ( Emily was scouting sites for her project on establishing an environmental water testing grid on the river.

Before we left we had a nice talk with John Wagner, Waterfront Director, and told him of our idea to test water coming out of the town sewer plant. He informed us something we did not know which is the town now dumps the outflow from the sewer plant from a pipe that is submerged into the river. We need to find the exact location of this pipe so we can submerge a test collector and sample right where the outflow comes into the river. I thought we would find a simple pipe draining right into Radcliffe Creek and we could just sample the outflow as it poured out of the pipe.

In addition to John Anderson getting a lot of house images we also helped Matt out and got a lot of dock images for his project. We videotaped a couple of marinas too for Matt. Note to self, we need a better video camera with a gyro stabilizer.

The highlight of the trip I think was when we saw a bald eagle sitting in a tree next to the river.

Photo courtesy of John Anderson

When it flew away we got to see an aerial bird fight as the osprey seemed to chase it away. And we saw more deer which I got on video tape along with osprey sitting around. With all of this and the literally hundreds of different other kinds of seagulls, ducks, cormorants, and other birds it was like the wild kingdom on the Chester today. Another great day on the river!

-Reported by Stewart Bruce

Monday, March 29, 2010

Late Night Bath

Andrew Newell is doing his class project on a bathymetric analysis of the Chester River and was having trouble finding the data from the NOAA site. There is this thing called ENC Direct and you can download vector files but it seems kind of clunky way to go about it. I did some more searching and stumbled across a cool site ( where you can search for actual bathymetric surveys. I did a word search on Chester and instantly found digital versions of the 1846 survey of the Chester. Pretty cool. Later on that night I leaned there is also a web map search version which is oh so much easier then the text search I started with. I also found 1898 maps and 1940 maps that had actual digital xyz data. I thought this is exactly what Andrew needs.

Then I wondered if I remembered how to turn that into a 3d scene of the bathymetric data so I could quickly show Andrew how to do it in our weekly meeting the next day. This was about 9 pm. I went ahead and converted the xyz text into an excel spreadsheet and brought this into ArcView. I used the Add XY event tool and created a point file. Then I used the point to IDW raster and made a raster image of the points. I brought this into ArcScene and then used the option to layer the raster surface against the z values for depth. This should make a cool 3D surface.

It did not work. I used a vertical exaggeration rate of 5 as this is what I had been using when I did the same 3D surface when I used elevation data on the area around campus. I tried several things, redid the entire process and even used the online help to see if I was doing something stupid. Well finally after a few hours I figured out that I need to make the vertical exaggeration 200, not 5. Victory!

The other interesting thing to realize is that the latest bathymetric survey of the river dates from 1940. We can also digitize the older surveys and look at change in depth over time. This will be a lot of work so I suggested to Andrew the next day that he do one small area as a pilot project and future students can pick up where he leaves off. While I don’t think Andrew will get a chance to do this when we get the prototype Argus unit ( on the Reinell we can then track the same survey line that they did in 1846 and compare depth change from 1846 to 2010. That is change over a 164 year period. Should turn out to be very interesting indeed.

-Reported by Stewart Bruce

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

On the River Again

Spring has sprung and the weather finally got nice enough to take the old pontoon boat out on the water so we could start collecting data for our GIS on the Chester project. Our new donated boat, a 22 foot Reinell, is trapped at Handy Point Marina by sailboats until they put these boats back in the water. We boated right past the new CES research vessel with envy in our eyes and decided to head up river since it really was kind of windy. John Anderson, Matt Stiles and I were on board with Andrew Wright acting as Captain. It felt really good to be back on the water after a long and blizzard like winter.

Matt needed to collect images of docks for his class project and John was looking to get some images of historic homes from the river for his river tour guide map project. I brought along our really cool Ricoh camera with built-in GPS so we could collect images and GPS points. The Ricoh camera is nice but the GPS Photo Link software that goes with it allows you to simply take a picture and after you process it the software creates a shapefile with a hyperlink to the image already for you saving hours back in the lab. This means more time for us to do fieldwork of course. John brought his own camera but had no way to record what he was taking so he used the Ricoh too. I think his camera may be better but it doesn’t have GPS.

It was a little chilly but we all had jackets. Next time we need to take hats as we all got red faces from sunburn. Just because its cold doesn’t mean you don’t get sunburn. Andrew used the boat hook pole to check depth so we did not mess up the new propeller on the new engine. We had to cycle the new engine to break it in so we took a rather lazy track up river. We saw lots of Osprey nests and one Bald Eagle nest where we could see the white head of the eagle. And we saw a small herd of deer swimming across one of the small creeks too but too fast for us to get a picture. The map shows our route and we plan to make one of these maps every time we go out on the river so check back on our progress.

When we finally got back to the boathouse the rowers were out and so was the Sultana so we did a little diversion to check these out. (These are the little circles on our route map) We ended up down at the yacht club and used our video camera to record the marina there. A single picture won’t do justice to any of the marinas so we decided to video tape all marinas. It is interesting now that most of them are empty with all the boats on shoppers. We will redo the videos at the peak of summer so we can see the contrast.

-Reported by Stewart Bruce

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Pot Luck Projects

Food, People, & Planet Mapping

By: Heather Black ‘13

The diets of human beings have changed dramatically throughout history. When comparing the diets of tribal groups to those of the modern western world, one can see that there is also a large contrast. We all know how modern diets impact our health, but just what types of food were involved in the diets of tribal groups? Are they healthier than ours? And where are they located? Professor Schindler’s GRW class: Food, People, and the Planet, set out to answer these questions and with the help of Andrew Wright used GIS software to map the location of each group. The project involved studying the research of Weston Price, a dentist who traveled the world and documented the diets of 14 different groups isolated from the industrialized world. The class discovered that the diets were vastly different from ours and consisted of variety raw foods including raw milk and dairy products, unprocessed grains, organ meats, and quality animal fats. Dr. Price also documented the almost complete absence of tooth decay, obesity, and the other “western” diseases such as diabetes we currently suffer from in the modern western world. The class placed this data into excel sheets and with the help of Andrew Wright used ArcGIS 9.3 to map the information, showing the locations of the different groups.

Professor Bill Schindler:
"People making important changes the modern food system and our diets are still utilizing the data the Weston Price collected in the 1930's. Many of these people believe that infor¬mation such as this can provide better guidance for how humans should be eating than modern food science can."

Cartographer: Ann Hoang ‘13

Alumni in the Spotlight

Samuel Evans‘09

Sam frequently uses ArcGIS for normal things like digitizing or geocoding, but he also gets the chance to do fun things like building custom geoprocessing tools. He is actually in the process of using the ArcGIS software development kit to build completely customized application from the ground up. He regularly programs in C, C++, C#, Python, Java, and VBScript, just to name a few. He works for a development, research and commercialization firm.

Current Projects: Bay Watch Chesapeake

By: Caroline Grier ‘10

The Washington College GIS Department in partnership with Aloft Aerial Photography has designed a new pilot project that will allow concerned local citizens to report environmental problems in the Chesapeake Bay. The Bay suffers from numerous environmental problems. While some are reported many remain unreported and unresolved. To help solve this dilemma the GIS lab created a central reporting and tracking program that is tied with a web mapping interface. This allows anyone to view all the locations of the problems and the status of each reported problem. Once a problem is reported and mapped, different Federal, state, and local non-profit organizations can take action. The Bay Watch Chesapeake pilot will determine if it is feasible to have all of these recorded problems in a single accessible source available to everyone. By completing a beta version of the program we have taken a huge step forward bringing environmental protection and awareness to the age of Facebook & Twitter.

Above is a pilot of our program that allows individuals to report environmental violations through the use of Google Maps.

Chris Farley ‘11
“Working on the Google API code and Bay Watch has enhanced my knowledge of the environmen¬tal problems on the bay and has furthered my knowledge in GIS and computer coding.”

Otto Borden ‘13
“Working on the Bay Watch project has taught me a lot about Google API and Java Script. “

Example of a problem being reported.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Crime! Works So Good it’s Practically Criminal

Maryland Crime Mapping and Analysis Program

With a renewed grant, the GIS lab continues its work to provide crime mapping in the state of Maryland. The Washington College GIS Lab also conducts an outreach program, which invites law enforcement agencies to sign up for crime mapping training. Caryn Thomas ’05 M’09 and Andrew Wright guide student interns in the lab. Here are some recent projects that these students are doing.

Mary Kelley ‘11
I am working on a project to evaluate differences in crime rates between communities designed with the principles of new urbanism verses traditional cul-de-sac style communities. This is a fairly controversial subject and should generate a lot of interest when I publish the final report.

Tracey Bienemann ‘11
I am working with the 2000 United States Census data to define disadvantaged census
blocks based on previous research. The challenging census data first had to be decoded to determine what exactly each column of data contained, followed by selecting the criteria found to be important in the classification of disadvantage level in census blocks. Once the data is decoded, the necessary criteria will be brought to a map, and then it will be organized to show the chosen data in ranks to display census blocks containing some of the following features: low income, high numbers of vacant housing and house/apartment renters, high percentages of school drop-outs, high percentages of mother-only households and high percentages of unemployment. Determining disadvantaged neighborhoods may allow authorities to further aid those who are impoverished and in danger of crime. One area that maps may focus on is census blocks around the city of Baltimore.

Jeffrey Nutting ‘13
Once I graduate from Washington College my career goal is working with the FBI. When I learned there were openings within the crime analysis and mapping division of the GIS program I saw it as a great opportunity. The crime maps, among other work I’ve been doing this year, has helped reinforce my goal. This year has been a great experience and is extremely beneficial for me. I appreciate the opportunity that has been given to me to work with in the lab.